Inside the Justin Schultz Sweepstakes: Ice-Time Earned, Not Given
For the first time in perhaps months, the Roberto Luongo trade speculation took a back seat in Vancouver, giving way to the Justin Schultz sweepstakes.
Those who don’t know Schultz already need simply to take a look at some of his college highlights to get a glimpse of what the silky blueliner can offer an NHL club.
Schultz, drafted by Anaheim in 2008 as a second round pick, refused to sign a pro contract with the Ducks within three years of his draft, allowing him to become a free agent. For the Canucks, Schultz could become the most highly anticipated defense prospect they’ve had since Alex Edler, perhaps even beyond that.
Sure, you can question the way that Schultz became a free agent, but to be fair, this isn’t the first time in recent memory a promising young prospect has turned down a contract with the team that drafted him. Blake Wheeler was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2004 (fifth overall!) and didn’t sign a contract, allowing the highly touted winger to sign with the Boston Bruins. Now, Wheeler plies his trade with the Winnipeg Jets, is a fan favourite, and no one questions his heart or commitment to the game.
Then there are those who condemn Schultz for making this saga “about him”, saying that he’s stealing the spotlight from trade discussions around the league or CBA negotiations. But can you blame the 21-year-old for wanting to take his time? The first few years for a budding NHL player can be so crucial for his development; careers have been ruined because the situation and the fit with an NHL club wasn’t right for the player (see Kyle Okposo). Few should bestow blame on Schultz for wanting to make sure he makes the right decision. It’s an important one; take your time, kid. And it’s not like Schultz is going to hold one of these when he signs a contract… I think.
But I digress. Early reports seem to suggest that the Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Toronto Maple Leafs will be on the Schultz short list in the next few days, with the possibility another surprise club finds its way onto the list as well.
The Edmonton Oilers are offering Schultz a nice package, one which is promised with lots of ice time, powerplay minutes, and the chance to grow and mature with young players. While the Oilers are no powerhouse yet, the potential on their roster shows plenty of promise within the next few years.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have an ace in the hole in Jake Gardiner, Schultz’s teammate at the University of Wisconsin and one of his closest friends. How great would it be to play with your best friend on the same pairing for the next decade?
But ultimately, if the Vancouver Canucks are smart when they offer their package to Schultz’s camp, they’ll make no promises.
You see, while Schultz is entitled to take his time in making a decision, by no means has he earned the privilege to make demands from potential suitors. He’s played a grand total of 0 games in the NHL.
If Schultz wants ice time and powerplay minutes, the Canucks should tell him it’s there if he earns it. If he wants to take the steps necessary to learn under some veterans and play on a contending team, the Canucks are his choice.
Contrary to what two straight Presidents’ Trophies will tell you, the Vancouver Canucks haven’t won a whole lot, at least not what matters. And ultimately, the Canucks and their fans are in the business for one thing, and one thing only: winning the Stanley Cup. If a player’s number one focus isn’t to win a Stanley Cup, he doesn’t have the type of character that Mike Gillis covets. If Justin Schultz has his sights set on his own personal gains, he has no place on this roster. Vancouver dealt with one prospect who was in it for himself, and would be wise to avoid that situation again.
The Canucks can’t and shouldn’t make promises to Justin Schultz. He has to earn every second of ice time he gets, and if he applies that kind of work ethic on the ice, the results and the victories won’t be far behind.